Newly hired Dirtbags’ head coach Eric Valenzuela is a sentimental guy, just watch his introductory press conference. Spoken from behind home plate at Blair Field, Valenzuela’s first words at the helm of Long Beach State recalled winning the CIF championship on the same field in 1996.
“That was a huge moment in my playing career and that just brought it full circle, being able to coach here at Blair Field,” Valenzuela said.
Valenzuela’s family supported him throughout his playing career in Southern California. They were also at his first press conference as the Dirtbags’ coach, and he visibly fought to suppress a wave of emotion as he introduced them.
Valenzuela is proud to bring his family back to the greater Los Angeles area where he hopes to integrate the notion of family into the Dirtbags’ culture as well.
Relatives of Valenzuela will fill an entire section at all of the Dirtbags’ games, just as they did at St. Mary’s, his previous head coaching job. Valenzuela’s children will serve as the official bat boys for the team.
Valenzuela learned the importance of family support and loyalty from his parents, who have been together for more than 40 years. He also knows how important it is to feel supported as a student athlete.
“It’s a very difficult transition, especially for the young [student-athletes] to be away from home for the first time in their lives,” Valenzuela said. “Not only do they need a coach, they need a good support system.”
If that sentiment is true of any team, it is certainly true of the Dirtbags. After the firing of former head coach Troy Buckley due to allegations of workplace violence, the team could accurately be described as a broken family.
Valenzuela, however, is interested in moving forward.
“The one thing we’re not going to do is talk about the past,” Valenzuela said.
Soon the Dirtbags will look and feel completely different than last year. Practices will be open to the public and players will know where to go to get the specific type of support they might need. Valenzuela believes the culture changes will go hand in hand with better Dirtbags’ baseball.